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14 games have playoff implications

Drew Brees, Thomas Davis

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes under pressure from Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)


In this week’s slate of 16 NFL games, only two will have no effect at all on the playoff race. Here’s a handy explanation of how each game can affect each team’s path to the playoffs:

Playoff implications for both teams

Saints-Panthers: A huge game. If the Saints win, they clinch the NFC South and a first-round playoff bye. If the Panthers win, they clinch at least a playoff spot and are in the driver’s seat for the NFC South and a first-round playoff bye.

Patriots-Ravens: If the Patriots win, they clinch the AFC East. If the Patriots win and both the Bengals and Colts lose, the Patriots clinch a first-round playoff bye. If the Ravens win they stay alive in the AFC North, and the Ravens can clinch a playoff berth if they win and the Dolphins and Chargers both lose.

Bears-Eagles: The winner of this game will continue to lead its division and have the inside track for the No. 3 seed in the NFC. If the Eagles win and the Cowboys lose, the Eagles win the NFC East. If the Bears win and the Packers and Lions lose, the Bears win the NFC North.

Colts-Chiefs: The Colts are the only team in the NFL that has clinched its division, but they could be anywhere from the No. 1 seed to the No. 4 seed in the AFC depending on how the last two weeks play out. The Chiefs have clinched a playoff berth but can leapfrog the Broncos in the AFC West with a win and a Denver loss.

Cardinals-Seahawks: The Seahawks clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win. The Cardinals’ slim playoff hopes will get a big boost if they can upset Seattle. (It would also help the Cardinals if the Panthers lose to the Saints.)

Steelers-Packers: If the Packers win, they just need to beat the Bears in Week 17 to clinch the NFC North. If the Packers lose, they need the Bears to lose as well or else Green Bay would be eliminated. The Steelers have to win out and get a lot of help to make the playoffs.

Playoff implications for one team

Broncos-Texans: The Broncos clinch the AFC West and a first-round bye if they win and the Chiefs lose, and they clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if they win and both the Chiefs and Patriots lose.

Giants-Lions: The Lions must win to stay alive. If they lose, they are mathematically eliminated. If the Lions win and either the Bears or Packers lose, the Lions head into Week 17 with a chance at the playoffs. If the Lions win and both the Bears and Packers lose, the Lions just need to win in Week 17 to clinch the NFC North.

Falcons-49ers: The 49ers clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Falcons on Monday night. (It’s possible the 49ers will already have clinched a playoff berth on Sunday, which will happen if the Seahawks beat the Cardinals.)

Dolphins-Bills: The Dolphins are in the playoffs if they win out. They can also clinch the playoffs this week if they win while both the Bengals and Ravens lose.

Vikings-Bengals: The Bengals win the AFC North if they win and the Ravens lose, and the Bengals clinch a playoff berth if they win and the Dolphins lose.

Cowboys-Redskins: If the Cowboys win, they’re a Week 17 win over the Eagles away from winning the NFC East. If the Cowboys lose, they’ll be eliminated unless the Eagles also lose to the Bears.

Raiders-Chargers: The Chargers’ playoff chances are slim, but they can still get in if they win out and get some help.

Playoff implications, but not for either team playing

Browns-Jets: Although both of these teams are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it’s still possible that this game could affect the AFC playoff race. The Steelers’ only path to the playoffs involves a four- or five-way tiebreaker that includes the Jets, and that can only happen if the Jets win this game. If the Jets lose, the Steelers are mathematically eliminated.

No playoff implications

Buccaneers-Rams, Titans-Jaguars: Do yourself a favor and don’t watch these games.